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Sparking Math and Science Dreams In Tomorrow's Leaders

by Francie Grace

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

As a kid, I was always in awe of Marie Curie: just imagine, a woman and a world-renowned scientist, wife and mother. Despite that early imprint, I found glasses and microscopes awfully hard to use at the same time, and accordingly focused my talents in the world of words, which brings me here to you today.

Sally Ride was another such role model for many, so it's kind of cool to see America's first woman in space as the name on the door and the guiding force behind the Sally Ride Science Academy. With the National Science Foundation predicting that 80 percent of the next decade's jobs will require math and science skills, Ride was on hand in D.C. last week as a hundred elementary school teachers from across the nation gathered at the Academy to learn more about strategies for getting today's kids excited about science. "When I was growing up ... science was cool," says the 59-year-old Ride. "We need to make science cool again."

A lot of educators are working on this, too among the notables online are Chris Lehmann of Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy (which got a visit from Bill Gates) and many of the reformers active in #edchat discussions on Twitter and elsewhere in social media but unlike those pathfinders, most of Ride's students are teachers.

The success of such efforts depends very much on public attitudes towards math and science and opinions on the relative importance of the need to nurture the next generation of tech wizards and workers. Public Agenda's been very active in this area, both in research on public attitudes to lay the groundwork for discussion, and in public engagement projects talking to community leaders, parents and students.

Our public opinion study, Are We Beginning To See The Light?, found strong majorities who said there will be more jobs and college opportunities for students with science and math skills. But 52 percent of parents said the math and science education their own children are getting is "fine as is," and few survey participants, including non-parents, said it's essential for students to understand advanced sciences like physics (28 percent) or advanced math like calculus (26 percent).

For more on this subject, see: Getting Ready For 21st Century Careers, our Choicework discussion guide for citizens to consider the issues and take action in their own communities; Opportunity Knocks: Closing the Gaps between Leaders and the Public on Math, Science, & Technology Education; Out Before the Game Begins: Hispanic Leaders Talk About What's Needed to Bring More Hispanic Youngsters Into Science, Technology and Math Professions; and A Time to Learn, A Time to Grow: California Parents Talk About Summertime and Summer Programs.


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